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  • Adam Cardona

What is self-care?

Self-care is everywhere; at least these days, it does seem to be everywhere we look.  From ads on youtube & television to paper ads as you commute to work and even all over your social media, the world these days is talking more and more about a good self-care regimen.  With all the voices fighting to get your attention, we must ask ourselves, “What does self-care mean to me?” 

To each one of us, self-care is customizable, but there exist are fundamentals for it to be considered health-supportive self-care.   Knowing this definition is essential. For example, let's say you have a boss or supervisor at work, and they make your day hard to the point that you need to focus on taking care of yourself so you can feel like you released the stress from that day.  Using a method like exercising, meditation, qi-gong, tai-chi, or talk therapy would be considered health-supportive self-care. On the other hand, taking this stress and go binge drinking or looking to put someone down, might feel good at the moment, but it is not true self-care.

Self-care helps our mind, our body, and our spirit and nourishing each one adds up to caring for the greater whole.  These three factors are the foundation of our health as a living being, so self-care is necessary to a long, fulfilling life. It is similar to any building, the whole building could be a magnificent structure, but if any of the foundations are weak, then it makes the building more likely to collapse.  

Self-care should be started as a proactive activity for reducing your stress and imbalances.  Meaning you should begin to take care of yourself before you develop problems, trauma, or pains as a result of not taking care of yourself. The body is my particular area of expertise, so I will talk to you about self-care for your body.    Though self-care can be used as a reaction to a dip in health, it shouldn't be there only when your health fails.  

When I was in my early 20’s, there was a man who was speaking to myself and a large audience at the time, and one thing he said rang forever true in my perception of self-care. What he said was along the lines of, “We have to pay to keep our health at some point in our lives. We can start at the front end of our lives, spending small amounts to improve or maintain our base level of health. Otherwise, we can pay for it at the end of our lives.  Putting off the payment until later is like using a credit card to pay for food. You’ll create a deficit so large you’ll pay heavily for your health, charging you interest and penalties.”

The interest and penalties he meant was disease, disorder, and time away from those you love. Ever since that point in time, I understood that self-care had to be done proactively.  Making small changes to my day to day lifestyle was how I adjusted. I came to look at my self-care as an on-going process measured by how well I took care of myself week over week — looking at it as small increments that I would have to achieve made it more reasonable to get to the larger goal because I had smaller target goals on self-care.  This was key to making a lifestyle change easier and reasonably achievable.

Now what you should do physically to help with proper self-care is simple and more accessible than social media might have you believe. There are a few basic things you can do for appropriate self-care that don’t involve anyone else.  Self-care provided by yourself should be your daily ritual, and your first line of defense against stress and imbalances. When wanting to provide self-care for yourself, start with your breathing. A full deep breath activates the part of your nervous system that is in charge of your rest-and-digest functions.  The rest-and-digest function is the opposite of your flight-or-fight reaction and will help you get your body back to its natural healing state. When your rest and digest function is active, that’s when all healing begins. It’s the same state we are in when we sleep. This is why they say the majority of your healing comes when you sleep.   

However, you can get to this state while you’re awake, and getting to this state is the first step to any self-care practice.  Once your breath is aligned, pay attention to how your body physically holds stress. Everyone holds stress differently, and you just need to figure out how your body gets tight in reaction to stress. Some people shrug their shoulders, others clench their jaws, while others contort their legs, yet others hold their breath and by doing this the stress starts to imbalance your muscles. Everyone holds stress in their bodies in their own ways. Sometimes the stress affecting your posture will help you manage the emotion, but when you go to release that muscle, the emotion you buried can come back at that moment.  This is exactly why you could go get stretched or have a massage and suddenly break out laughing or have a strong desire to cry. Setting an appointment with a massage therapist can also help you align your body and learn where your imbalances are. Just ask your therapist to let you know what you can work on how to better balance your body.

If you have trouble feeling your body in space you might want to find classes on meditation, tai-chi, or qi-gong.  These practices are more intuitive and contemplative and get you in touch with the nuances of your body and environment around you.

Massage and stretching are not the only components to a healthy physical self-care regimen; there are also two other important factors, diet, and exercise. Diet (aka how you eat) can be a powerful tool for either self-care or self-harm, depending on how you use it.  Follow simple guidance from a professional or get a customized plan from a nutritionist to make sure you get the most for yourself from your diet. Your body needs to consume the right nutrients to help it prevent you from getting sick, along with nourishing your skin and body.  Each choice you make when eating can either help or hinder you, so choose wisely even when your mind is not where it needs to be.

Exercise, it’s the one thing related to self-care that not everyone wants to hear is self-care.  Sorry, those skinny-teas, shake weights, vibrating platforms, and exercise-in-a-bottle will not provide for your the physical self-care you need.  Exercise strengthens the muscles and, when done right, keeps them in balance with each other. If you don’t work on keeping your muscles in balance, that’s when posture-related pains will start.  Although exercise will get you tired and sore, it’s a small price to pay to avoid pains. Exercise is also a great way to release your stress, finding a physical source to release those emotions could be the best thing for your self-care you can do for yourself. In this modern “civil” society, we learn not to express ourselves, to repress our emotional responses.  This leads to mental and emotional pain and imbalances. So by working out and we can release the anger, frustration, and sadness, we could have bottled up inside. Whether we release it through expressing ourselves naturally or releasing it through exercise we practice self-care by letting those emotions out.   

So however you manage to create your self-care plan, please remember the fundamentals of your health-supportive self-care rituals. Self-care is a lifestyle, not a product;  Self-care is a way of life, not a trend; Self-care can make you the best version of yourself, so be your best self and take care of yourself.